It's been an interesting week to follow Nebraska football. From the game on Saturday night to the press conferences that immediately followed to the press conference in Lincoln on Monday. It's been eventful and everyone wants to see how the team will respond.
If there's ever been a question about how a Nebraska team will respond with Bo Pelini as the head coach, I am not sure I have ever heard it asked. These are some uncharted waters. Never before have both sides of the football seemed organizationally wrong.
Much of that has to do with the splitting of time between the offense and the defense by Bo. He had to. While Carl Pelini might be the defensive coordinator, Bo was never too far away and his influence ran all the way through the defense.
In Bo's first years in Lincoln as the head coach there were retained offensive coaches that were allowed to do their job, basically as they had been, with Bo getting the defense in order. A defense that he inherited from Kevin Cosgrove, with minimal personnel changes on the field, Pelini simplified, stressed fundamentals and through what I would call organizational changes made them effective.
There are going to be some interesting places to watch on the field Saturday night to see how Nebraska prepared for Ohio State:
1. Offensive game-plan - If there was one area where it seemed Nebraska was the most "out of sync" on Saturday night against Wisconsin it was in the play calling. Nebraska came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. In the second quarter though, with a little more than half of the quarter remaining, Nebraska started to throw the football which led to three turnovers and 21 points for Wisconsin. Nebraska needs to come out against Ohio State and stick to a game plan.
2. Secondary - One area of the defense that doesn't have a lot of answers right now is the secondary. Alfonzo Dennard, in the two games that he's played in, seems to be returning to form. The positions around Dennard though have played inconsistently regardless of the personnel. Nebraska needs to find the right personnel to hold down the fort in the secondary while trying to find ways to supplement it as well through various blitz packages with the linebackers and potentially from the secondary then rolling the coverage. Nebraska also needs more pressure up-front from the defensive line.
3. Personnel getting another look - I have found it very curious that a player like Stanley Jean-Baptiste would go for a position change from wide receiver to defensive back to not be heard from again. I think that there are also players at linebacker potentially, like Trevor Roach and Alonzo Whaley, who need to be evaluated again. The changes up front could consist of moving guys around or trying an odd-man front trying to ignite a spark. On offense there is a need to get Brion Carnes on the field when the game is still on the line for a series or two to really stimulate his development. I think that there is also a need to look at receiver and running back combinations beyond the starters to really get an idea of what is there.
The situation of "try this" isn't ideal for Nebraska to have to go through against Ohio State on national television. This isn't your typical Ohio State team…a team that could only muster up seven points against Michigan State. Still, they are dangerous and from an overall talent level are on a par or are better than Nebraska.
That being said, the suspensions and the coaching changes have made their impact in Columbus and it couldn't happen at a better time for Nebraska. The Huskers are maybe a loss away from some wholesale changes because the answers to the questions in the first four non-conference tests haven't applied to conference games. And a chance to play for the Big Ten title is still on the line.
Look, it's early. Nebraska should be able to find a way to get through Ohio State on Saturday then there is a week off followed by another week against Minnesota who is 1-4. Nobody would have thought last fall that this would have been the ideal time to have an identity crisis, but it's definitely set up that way.
The different looks and personnel that I thought we all would have seen by now should be on the table for a look against Ohio State. Braxton Miller, the starting quarterback for Ohio State despite being pulled in favor of Joe Bauserman last week, didn't handle pressure well from Michigan State. I expect that Nebraska will try and dial up a lot of pressure to keep Miller uncomfortable looking down-field.
In the end though even if this could become a rout, which it probably won't, it would never get there. Bo Pelini and Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell are in similar places right now searching for a team identity. This goes beyond any type of Ohio State fraternity that might exist. This is about the DI head coaching code…Huskers win, 31-17.